The Republicans’ last sea wall against a Democratic wave in November visibly cracked, but did not entirely crumble, in Tuesday’s special election for a House seat in Pennsylvania.
For all of the gains Democrats have posted in elections held since Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, until this week they had failed to demonstrate progress on one critical front: regaining ground with the white working-class voters at the core of the president’s coalition.
Democrat Conor Lamb’s apparent victory—pending final counting—over Republican Rick Saccone in a preponderantly white, heavily blue-collar House district outside Pittsburgh showed that even those demographic defenses no longer look impregnable for the GOP. But the limits of his gains in the district’s mostly blue-collar areas—Westmoreland and Washington counties—underscore how far Democrats still have to go with these voters, and how difficult a slog it could be.
The complex, narrowly divided outcome in Pennsylvania suggests that Republicans could face a stiffer challenge than they expected in at least some blue-collar and non-urban districts where Trump has remained relatively popular—places like upstate New York, downstate Illinois, and parts of Michigan and Iowa. But Lamb’s apparent win—which turned on big margins in Allegheny, the district’s county with the most college graduates—also suggests that the epicenter of Republican vulnerability will remain the suburban white-collar districts most visibly alienated from Trump.